- Bill McKibben
co-founder of 350.org. He’s the author of several books, including Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet. His recent articles in New Republic include “A World at War: We’re under attack from climate change—and our only hope is to mobilize like we did in WWII” and “Recalculating the Climate Math.”
“We are under attack from climate change—and our only hope is to mobilize like we did in WWII,” says Bill McKibben, co-founder of 350.org, in an extended interview in our New York studio. “It’s not that we need to go to war with climate change, it’s that we are under siege.” This comes as 2016 is on track to be the hottest year ever on record and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has said if he is elected, he will weaken the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, abolish President Obama’s Clean Power Plan, promote fossil fuel exploration and recruit oil and gas executives to lead his Cabinet.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: This year may be only half over, but 2016 is already on track to be the hottest year ever on record. In the midst of this, during the first presidential debate on Monday, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump and his Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton, sparred briefly over climate change.
HILLARY CLINTON: Take clean energy. Some country is going to be the clean energy superpower of the 21st century. Donald thinks that climate change is a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese. I think it’s real.
DONALD TRUMP: I did not. I did not.
HILLARY CLINTON: I think the science is real.
DONALD TRUMP: I do not say that.
HILLARY CLINTON: And I think it’s important—
DONALD TRUMP: I do not say that.
HILLARY CLINTON: —that we grip this and deal with it, both at home and abroad.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Clinton was referring to a tweet Trump sent in 2012 in which he wrote, quote, “The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.” Trump later said he meant it as a joke, yet he has continued to suggest climate change is some sort of hoax. His comments were highlighted this week in a new TV ad produced by the Sierra Club.
DONALD TRUMP: All of this with the global warming and the—that—a lot of it’s a hoax. It’s a hoax. I mean, it’s a money-making industry, OK?
BILL O’REILLY: They said that you called climate change a hoax. Is that true?
DONALD TRUMP: Well, I might have. I believe that climate change is not man-made. We’re going to cancel the Paris climate agreement. Our president is worried about global warming. What a ridiculous situation.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: That’s right, Donald Trump has said that if he is elected, he will weaken the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, abolish President Obama’s Clean Power Plan, promote fossil fuel exploration and recruit oil and gas executives to lead his Cabinet.
Well, our next guest writes in the New Republic about, quote, “A World at War: We’re under attack from climate change—and our only hope is to mobilize like we did in WWII.” Quote, “Day after day, week after week, saboteurs behind our lines are unleashing a series of brilliant and overwhelming attacks. In the past few months alone, our foes have used a firestorm to force the total evacuation of a city of 90,000 in Canada, drought to ravage crops to the point where southern Africans are literally eating their seed corn, and floods to threaten the priceless repository of art in the Louvre.”
AMY GOODMAN: Our guest goes on to write, “The enemy is even deploying biological weapons to spread psychological terror: The Zika virus, loaded like a bomb into a growing army of mosquitoes, has shrunk the heads of newborn babies across an entire continent; panicked health ministers in seven countries are now urging women not to get pregnant. And as in all conflicts, millions of refugees are fleeing the horrors of war, their numbers swelling daily as they’re forced to abandon their homes to escape famine and desolation and disease.
“World War III is well and truly underway. And we are losing.”
Those are the words of Bill McKibben, who joins us today in our New York studio, co-founder of 350.org, author of a number of books, including Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet. His other new piece in the New Republic is headlined “Recalculating the Climate Math.”
Bill, welcome back to Democracy Now!
BILL McKIBBEN: Well, it’s good to be here.
AMY GOODMAN: So, you just heard the clip from the first presidential debate. You are certainly escalating the discussion about where climate change needs to fit into this. Talk about what the candidates have said and what you think actually needs to happen.
BILL McKIBBEN: Well, the context is, July and August were the two hottest months we’ve ever measured on this planet, and, in fact, the scientists who look at the proxy records from before we had thermometers tell us that July and August were probably the two hottest months in the history of human civilization. Against that backdrop, to see a buffoon like Trump, you know, playing games with climate change is sobering, but it’s also sobering to realize that, you know, none of our political leaders have said what we need to do on the scale we need to do it.
If we’re going to have a chance of dealing with climate change, it means mobilizing in ways that we haven’t in a very long time. And one of the points of writing this first piece for the New Republic this year was to demonstrate that at least that was possible. If you go look at how America mobilized during World War II, the industrial might that we brought to bear, and then you do the calculations, it’s at the outside edge of possible that we could, in the short time that we have, build enough solar panels and wind turbines. But it’s going to take the same kind of focused effort.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: But your use of the analogy of war for a country that is involved in war at the drop of a hat—war on terrorism, war on poverty, war on drugs.
BILL McKIBBEN: War on cancer, yes.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Yeah, and not to mention all the shooting wars, as well.
BILL McKIBBEN: All the actual wars, yeah.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: The actual wars. Your decision to use that analogy?
BILL McKIBBEN: So the point, in this case, was that—I mean, the war on drugs is a completely phony idea, right? It’s just a way of justifying all sorts of bad ideas. In this case, it’s not that we need to go to war with climate change, it’s that we’re under siege. I mean, by all the measures by which one thinks about warfare, we’re in one. We’re losing territory all the time. I mean, there are literally islands disappearing. You know, we’ve lost huge swaths of the coral in the world this year alone. A wave of warm water swept across the Pacific and the Indian Ocean. In many places, 80, 90 percent of coral died in a matter of weeks, these atolls that have been there forever in the Arctic. You know, ice that’s been there for millennia upon millennia is now gone. I mean, the world looks entirely different from a satellite now than it did 30 years ago. So, the question is not whether or not we’re in a conflict. The question is whether or not we’re going to fight it, or whether we’re going to keep listening to the Exxons of the world and do nothing.
AMY GOODMAN: So, in this piece you do, “Recalculating the Climate Math: The numbers on global warming are even scarier than we thought,” what shocked you most? Go through those numbers.
BILL McKIBBEN: This comes from a remarkable report from a group called Oil Change International in New York. And you’ll remember that a few years ago we talked about the sort of new climate math that launched the fossil fuel divestment movement. At that time, what we understood was that the world’s fossil fuel industry had far more—far too much carbon in its reserves, five times as much as we could afford to burn. What this new study indicates—and it’s important to kind of get this—is that the coal mines and oil and gas fields that we already have in production have enough carbon in them to take us past the 2-degree mark that the U.N. has said is the line for catastrophe.
That is, we—there’s nothing about the future anymore. We literally can’t build anything else and stay within those limits—no Dakota pipeline, no new coal mines in Australia, none of the things that our political leaders—I mean, Justin Trudeau in Canada two days ago green-lighted a massive LNG project on the British Columbia coast. In the light of this new climate data, it’s completely clear that these things, we just can’t do. We can’t drain most of what’s in the fields that we’ve already got in production. But as that dwindles, we have to be replacing it, day by day, with renewable energy instead.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And how do you feel in terms of the amount of time devoted to the issue of climate change in all of the debates, previously among the Democrats and Republicans, and now in the first actual presidential debate?
BILL McKIBBEN: In the course of the whole debate season, by far the high point was when the senator from my home state of Vermont stood up, and someone asked him at one of the debates, “What’s the most important challenge facing the world?” and he said, “Climate change.” And two weeks later, at the next debate, after all the editorialists had tut-tutted about how he should have said it was terrorism or something, they asked him again, and he said it again. OK? That’s a good sign, a good sign that he’s the most popular politician in America. But it hasn’t yet fully filtered down into the—you know, into the Clinton campaign, and certainly not the Trump campaign. The Democratic platform is very, very good on these issues. One hopes that if Ms. Clinton is elected, we’ll be able to press her to try and live up to that platform.
AMY GOODMAN: You weren’t feeling as encouraged when you served on the Democratic Platform Committee, and you described this in your piece. Explain what happened—
BILL McKIBBEN: So, I was—
AMY GOODMAN: —what you’re calling for, and what ultimately—
BILL McKIBBEN: I was depressed halfway through, because when the Platform Committee, which Bernie had asked me to serve on—we took a series of votes, and we lost, seven to six, you know, on sort of party-line votes, on all sorts of things. But then, Bernie refused to concede. He didn’t back down. He didn’t do what everyone told him he should do. He kept in the race through the final meeting about the platform in Orlando two weeks before the convention. And he did that in order to ensure that he’d have leverage in those discussions. That’s what he—I mean, it’s not like eight years ago when what Hillary Clinton wanted was for Barack Obama to pay off her campaign debt. What he wanted was progress on the issues.
And as a result, by staring them down, the platform, at the last minute, turned markedly more progressive. Among other things, there’s a call in there for an emergency climate summit within the first hundred days of a new administration, designed to—and it says this in the platform—mobilize us for something like a World War II approach to climate change. We’ll see if we can hold them to it. Clearly, it will take hundreds of thousands of people in the street, just like there were in New York two years ago this month.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to go to break, and then we’re going to come back to this discussion with Bill McKibben, co-founder of 350.org, author of two pieces in the New Republic, most recently, “Recalculating the Climate Math” and “A World at War: We’re under attack from climate change—and our only hope is to mobilize like we did in WWII.” Stay with us.